On 28 February 2018, German local newspaper Rheinische Post (RP) published an article about “a particularly heinous act” perpetrated on 18 February in Bochum. A 30-year-old man is accused of having, on the morning of that day, raped a 33-year-old woman in a cemetery. An internal police memo details how the man grabbed her from behind in a meadow, pulled her hood over her head, strangled her and pushed her on the ground. While pushing her down, he held his victim’s mouth and nose closed. He then ordered her to undress herself completely, before doing the same himself. He subsequently proceeded to rape her multiple times.
However terrible, the main reason why the RP and German magazine BILD have published about the case, is not the crime itself. But because the authorities chose to keep the case under wraps, classifying it as VS, meaning only for official use. The details haven’t even been released to be recorded in the national police crime statistics. Possible ground, according to RP: the suspect is on a so-called “Kurs”-probation.
Kurs stands for “Konzeption zum Umgang mit Rückfallgefährdeten Sexualstraftätern” (Conception for Dealing with Sexual delinquents for whom there is a danger of Recidivism) and is a program in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. The program is a cross-jurisdictional, administrative regulation instigated by the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Labour. Its stated goal, is to protect the public from those convicted of sexual crimes, for whom there is a high danger of recidivism. It is in place to prevent former convicts from slipping into anonymity after their term in prison, which would enable them to make new victims.
The police in Bochum didn’t want to comment on the case and referred RP to the responsible District Attorney. When asked, District Attorney General Paul Jansen commented:
“We can confirm the case. We have issued a warrant for his arrest. And this warrant has been awarded by the district court on 22 February. Consequently, he is in jail. Before this criminal act, he has committed two more sexual crimes in the years 2009 and 2010.“
Despite attempts, RP could not reach the Ministry of the Interior prior to publication. It did manage to speak to a senior police detective, who criticised the decision, which goes against normal procedure, not to be open about the rape:
“The public has, in my opinion, a right to know that a convicted sex offender poses a real danger, when he is back on the streets. When something as dreadful as in Bochum happens, it has to be called what it is. No ifs and buts. When important information like this is withheld, people think that everything is as it should be and those in the Kurs-program don’t relapse.“
When BILD contacted the District Attorney, Paul Jansen explained the reason why the public wasn’t told:
“This is what happened. He was in the Kurs-program. Based on the traces on the crime scene, we were of the opinion that the crime could be solved relatively quickly. The perpetrator was at a service petrol station shortly after the act, and had himself picked up by a taxi from there. On the basis of the petrol station’s video footage and descriptions by the taxidriver the man could be identified in no time and apprehended a few days later.“
Further research by BILD shows that the man was categorised as Kurs-category B, which means “risk subject with high potential for danger,” indicating that if measures were not taken, he would again commit a crime. BILD also says, that after his release in 2014, the man behaved unremarkably. He went to therapy, had found a steady job and was engaged. Arnold Plinckert, head of the Police Union of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in BILD:
“Fundamentally, the Kurs-program has proven itself since 2010. The rate of recidivism is between 3 and 4 percent and thus clearly below the normal rate for sexual crimes of around 15%. But in the current case, there were absolutely no grounds why the public couldn’t be told what had happened after the arrest of the perpetrator.“